Sustainable Packaging Trends: The Right Balance Between Being Eco-Friendly and Wallet-Friendly

With environmentally friendly packaging a growing area of concern for consumers, retailers must consider the sustainability of their packaging to attract and retain customers. Here’s how business owners can prioritize sustainable packaging while managing fulfillment costs.

What is Sustainable Packaging?

Packaging sustainability is about more than the customer’s ability to put boxes in their recycling bin. These days, packaging sustainability is concerned with environmental impact across the packaging supply chain, from the carbon output of package manufacturing to the customer’s ability to reuse or recycle product packaging.

In a general sense, sustainable packaging is concerned with packaging and shipping consumer products in a way that’s environmentally friendly or minimizes negative impacts on the climate and environment. While specific sustainable packaging techniques depend on your industry and product offerings, sustainable packaging usually includes materials that the customer can recycle at home, boxes and fillers sourced from recycled materials, and multi-use packaging that the customer can use with the product or for another purpose.

Why should your business care about sustainable packaging? A 2020 McKinsey survey found that while environmental impact is not a top decision factor when choosing which product to buy, consumers are still worried about the sustainability of packaging. 94% of respondents indicated some level of concern with the environmental impact of product packaging across a variety of factors, including water and air pollution, waste production, and climate change. Even if sustainability is not part of your company mission or values, prioritizing packaging that’s better for the environment can help you attract and retain customers.

Sustainable Packaging Trends in 2022

With customer demand for sustainable packaging on the rise, companies are getting creative with how they incorporate sustainability into their product packaging.

Returnable, Reusable Packaging

Since municipal waste management programs often have strict rules about what can be recycled, it’s common for any packaging material that’s not cardboard to get thrown out. Some consumer goods companies are combating this with container reuse programs.

For example, several well-known brands like Living Proof, Barilla, and Colgate offer recycling programs that allow customers to return traditionally hard-to-recycle packaging for free after they’ve used the product. The companies either reuse the containers for their own packaging or partner with third-party businesses that have the capability to recycle materials that can’t be recycled at home. While these programs require customer buy-in and willingness to ship containers back after use, the strategy can help reduce waste and even save money by incorporating previously used packaging into the manufacturing process.

Biodegradable Plant Boxes

For smaller consumer products that need to be boxed, consider investing in compostable boxes that can be placed in a garden. One trend that’s taking off is biodegradable boxes and envelopes embedded with wildflower seeds. Once the product has been removed, the box can be placed in the soil and as it breaks down, the seeds will grow into flowers.

Packaging Minimalism

These days, less is more in product packaging. While your materials need to adequately protect your products during shipping, make sure that every part of your packaging has a purpose. This goes for everything from the box fillers that keep the product in place to the amount of ink used on the box design.

Environmentally- and Wallet-Friendly

One of the concerns associated with packaging sustainability is that environmentally friendly packaging is more expensive than single-use plastics or other traditional packaging. While eco-friendly alternatives can be more costly, continued innovation may help reduce costs in the future.

A majority of consumers would pay more for products packaged sustainably. If environmentally friendly packaging significantly increases your costs, you may find that it’s possible to pass these costs onto your customers without the risk of alienating them. It’s important to balance packaging sustainability with cost management to ensure that you’re prioritizing eco-friendly packaging without hurting your profits.

By Brendan Heegan

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